5 questions with… Food Recovery Network leader Shadi Ahmadmehrabi

The Food Recovery Network’s mission is simple: “Fight waste and feed people.”

Food waste is an ever-growing problem in the United States, especially on college campuses like Case Western Reserve University. But across the city, there are many who don’t have enough to eat.

“We don’t have to think about hunger as some kid in Africa, which is what everyone says,” Shadi Ahmadmehrabi, a senior pre-med student studying engineering, said. “There are starving kids a mile away from you, and we have the responsibility of recognizing that and doing something about it.”

Shadi AhmadmehrabiFor that reason, a group of dedicated students banded together to address the problem two years ago as part of service project for the Muslim Student Association. That project grew into what is now the CWRU campus chapter of the national nonprofit Food Recovery Network. Ahmadmehrabi is one of five leaders in the organization’s flat hierarchy model, along with senior Sara Ahmed, sophomores Amalia Gitosuputro and Naveen Rehman and first-year Mia Gorczyca.

In order to accomplish their goal, members of the organization collect individually packaged food that wasn’t served from campus dining locations managed by Bon Appetit Management Co. and also from Panera Bread’s Uptown restaurant. Each week, they donate approximately 400 pounds of food to local soup kitchens, where they volunteer on Saturdays.

Food Recovery Network and Bon Appetit are national partners, which has been a major part of the organization’s success on campus. While there have been attempts to recover food on campus in the past, they largely were unsustainable without the support of on-campus food providers.

This semester, the group will feature a new partnership with the School of Medicine to have medical students make short presentations on nutrition and disease management using diet at St. Matthew’s, the church and soup kitchen where they donate food every week.

Food Recovery Network wasn’t Ahmadmehrabi’s first foray into working to combat hunger; in high school, she worked for an organization called Food Gatherers in her hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., serving her community at soup kitchens.

“That was a really formative experience,” she said. “It really got me interested in food issues.”

Volunteering with organizations such as Food Gatherers and Food Recovery Network meshed her newfound interest with her passion for working with social justice groups.

As a doctor, Ahmadmehrabi plans to continue bringing those two interests together by addressing health disparities, particularly with regard to minority access to health care.

It was her involvement with Food Recovery Network that changed her life path, leading her to study medicine. While engineering allowed her to solve problems, she felt something was lacking and found herself increasingly drawn to basic sciences and, eventually, medicine.

“I loved what I was doing with Food Recovery Network, and when I was doing research full-time, I realized I was missing those interactions with people that are from different backgrounds that I wouldn’t get to meet in an educational environment,” she said. “That really spurred my change to medicine. I really wanted to be serving people directly and connecting with them.”

Food Recovery Network will join other student organizations working with Narcisz Fejes, lecturer of English, to host Food Week April 11-14, which will center on events about health, food and service. The event will feature a symposium with Eric Holt Gimenez, a leader in food issues, on April 14. He will discuss the global food system and the injustices embedded within it. Keep an eye on the daily for more details.

Interested in joining Ahmadmehrabi and the other Food Recovery Network members in making a difference? Attend the volunteer training meeting Thursday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. in Tinkham Veale University Center’s Senior Classroom, or email frnexec@case.edu.

But before you add the meeting to your calendar, get to know Ahmadmehrabi a little better.

1. What is your proudest accomplishment?

Honestly, it’d probably have to be my work with Food Recovery Network. I feel so fulfilled and satisfied because of everything I’ve gotten to do and from feeling like a part of my community outside of just being a student. The first day we were at St. Matthew’s [the church the organization often works at and donates food to on Saturdays], I remember getting a rush of adrenaline from seeing what can happen when a community comes together. I wasn’t just proud of myself but of my whole community.

2. If you could do anything you wanted for a day, what would you do?

I would want to work on the show Mythbusters as a guest host. Ideally, I would replace Adam for the day and work with Jamie and do crazy cool experiments. Then, I would grab dinner with my best friends, Tina Fey and Michelle Obama, and tell them about my fun day at work.

3. Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life?

Ideally, Beyonce. Realistically, Michael Cera.

4. If you could go back in time to tell your childhood self something, what would you say?

I would tell myself not to quit the soccer team in third grade. My hand-eye coordination isn’t great, but I wish I had the consistent thread of playing a sport throughout my life.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

I think the staff and the different administrators I’ve been lucky enough to work with are really student-focused. We’ve got a lot of great institutional support. They are focused on things that serve you. That’s definitely been my favorite thing at school. I wasn’t expecting that. With Food Recovery Network, we’ve had incredible experiences with faculty, administrators and staff.